Rwanda: Satellite Cities - What's Special About Muhanga, Nyamata and Rwamagana?

20 September 2021

Three towns neighbouring the City of Kigali - Muhanga, Nyamata and Rwamagana - have a potential to grow and support the capital city's population pressure dynamics in terms of socio-economic development, an official has told The New Times.

According to Alexis Rutagengwa, head of the land use management and mapping department at the Rwanda Land Management and Use Authority (RLMUA), the three were classified as satellite cities by the new National Land Use and Development Master Plan 2020-2050. Muhanga, which used to fall in the secondary city category, was upgraded to satellite city status.

Satellite cities are, according to urban planning experts, a relatively new development. They are smaller municipalities adjacent to a major city, like Kigali in Rwanda's case, which is the core of a metropolitan. Their characteristics include low building density, high environmental quality and separation from the central city.

Esther Ndacyayisenga, an urban planner and real estate professional, looks at the purpose of satellite cities in various ways including to: curb the City of Kigali's expansion; promote economic activities in those satellite cities; distribution of power and economic development to those cities; better and balanced management of urbanisation and growth; and better use of land and other resources.

She added: "I think the concept is gaining ground because of the current high rate of urbanisation. Therefore, strategic interventions are needed to ensure the country is making the most out of the positive consequences of urbanisation."

The main purpose of establishing satellite towns is to disperse the population and industry of the principal cities and lessen the inhabitants' living problems in big cities. The aim, among other things, is to create affordable housing for a large section of the society.

The term satellite cities, Rutagengwa said, is a new category in the hierarchy of the way urban planning in Rwanda is conceptualized and the three towns "form what is called a golden triangle" of satellite cities around the capital.

"This type of urbanization planning exists also in many other advanced countries around the world," he said.

Asked why the trio is given what looks to be special status, Rutagengwa said that "projections show that the three are growing, in terms of population and urbanization development, more than others, given their proximity to the capital.

Their respective populations are projected to grow at between 650,000 and one million.

"This requires special attention for their planning and implementation control."


Rutagengwa said the three cities already have strategic investments in the pipeline which will support their economic growth.

The investments he referred to include big projects such as the underway construction of the new international airport in Nyamata, Bugesera district.

The government hopes the $400 million airport could be ready for operations by 2023.

Nyamata is also home to the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA), a college that is part of multimillion-dollar agriculture initiatives funded by American philanthropist, Howard G. Buffett.

"Trade, transport, and tourism will be the main drivers of Bugesera (Nyamata) due to the new international airport. As a planned satellite city, construction, infrastructure services, and hi-tech will also be essential. The growth of the financial sector will be inevitable," Rutagengwa said.


Muhanga which was previously categorized as a secondary city is about 45 kilometres south of Kigali. It has mining, trade, industry, tourism, and logistics growth potentials.

Works under the Rwanda Urban Development Project (RUDP), an ongoing World Bank-funded project meant to provide better roads; street lighting and drainage systems have given the city a facelift. Among others, three major investors - Mountain Ceramic (makers of clay tiles), Seven Hills (saucepans manufacturers), and Basil Company (cleaning equipment) -are looking to construct industries.

"An industrial and special economic zone, improved roads infrastructures, mining processing plants and so forth are underway," Rutagengwa said.

"The driving sector for Muhanga will be mining, trade and logistics. Due to its consideration as a Satellite city, infrastructure services and construction will be on the rise."


Rwamagana, located about 50 kilometres northeast of Kigali, also has industrial and special economic zones, improved roads infrastructure, hillside in addition to marshland irrigation projects.

At least 16 big projects are expected to play a significant role in the development of Rwamagana during the implementation of the updated master plan 2021-2050. The projects include the upgrading of Rwamagana district hospital, food market buildings, rehabilitating roads and setting up a transport hub to connect Uswahilini, one of Rwamagana's old markets, to the Central Business District (CBD).

There is also a plan to set up a planetarium, a theatre built primarily for presenting educational and entertaining shows about astronomy, in the city.

Rutagengwa said: "Rwamagana is developing a large manufacturing hub. As a satellite city, more construction and related infrastructure developments will be expected. Commercial agriculture and processing will be equally important as the district has soils suitable for agriculture."

As noted, the satellite cities' land-use master plans covering the respective entire districts are being elaborated to ensure a smart, balanced and development.

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